Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number 4s.

Look, I ain’t going to lie to you or nothing: today’s selection is not that great. Have we perhaps been spoilt by the unusually high quality of some of the earlier rounds? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

But don’t run away, when there’s work to be done! Here at Which Decade, we’re voters, not quitters. So buckle down and bite the pillow – it’s your Number Fours.

1969: Please Don’t Go – Donald Peers. (no video available)
1979: I Was Made For Dancin’ – Leif Garrett. (video)
1989: The Living Years – Mike & The Mechanics. (video)
1999: Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) – The Offspring. (video)
2009: Crack A Bottle – Eminem featuring Dr Dre & 50 Cent. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.

wd09-04-69The 1969 chart debut of the 60-year old Donald Peers is a curious quirk indeed – but in career terms, he had always been a Johnny Come Lately. In his early forties, Peers became a huge star in post-war Britain: packing the Albert Hall and out-selling Bing Crosby in the UK. A performer of the old school, whose most popular song was “In a Shady Nook, by a Babbling Brook”, his music would have sounded out of place even in the earliest singles charts of 1952.

In 1962, Peers invited the then unknown Tom Jones onto his TV show, giving Jones his first big break. But as the 1960s progressed, Peers slid from view – not helped by a serious on-stage accident in Sydney which caused him to lose two inches in height (according to this fascinating biographical tribute page).

However, the Great British Public have always loved a good comeback story (how else to explain the 2004 resurgence of Peter Andre?), and so in 1969 they re-clasped Peers to their collective bosom. This doesn’t make “Please Don’t Go” any more enjoyable in 2009, though. There’s something off-puttingly stiff-hipped and stiff-upper-lipped here; a dessicated repression of unseemly emotion; the sort of stolid recital which reminds us of why rock and roll HAD to happen.

wd09-04-79And talking of stiff-hipped emotional blockage, here’s the useless five-minute roller-disco king Leif Garrett, stumbling blankly through a pile of cynically ropey old toss that no amount of retro-kitsch filtering could ever make acceptable.

OK, so maybe bits of “I Was Made For Dancin'” could have been re-fashioned into a jolly Bollywood Disco romp, and maybe Ricky Martin could have done something borderline passable with the chorus – but that’s really as generous as I can get.

Poor old Leif has had a tough old time of it in recent years, mainly on the drug abuse/arrest front; there’s an awful police mug shot of him out there, that feeds into the sort of public appetite for Schadenfreude which is the nasty flip side of the Donald Peers “redemption” coin. But looking at this video clip, poor old Leif doesn’t even look particularly happy at the height of his success. Am I just projecting, or are those poster-boy eyes rather glassier than they should be? Or is he merely wrestling with an entirely understandable inner aesthetic disgust? We may never know, eh readers?

wd09-04-89Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I have NOT been looking forward to writing about this one, AT ALL. So please bear with me, as I attempt to type with fingers squished against nose…

OK. To be fair, then. Easily the best thing about Mike (Rutherford-out-of-Genesis) and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years” is Paul Carrack’s vocal performance. If anyone was ever going to make this ghastly song work, then the underrated talent who brought us Ace’s “How Long” and Squeeze’s “Tempted” was its best of all possible hopes.

All of which simply makes “The Living Years” all the more agonising, as this otherwise fine singer works his way through one of the most painful compositions I have ever had to endure on “Which Decade”. Speaking as someone who has “Unresolved Issues With Formerly Controlling Dead Father” baggage of his own to deal with, thank you very much, there’s something about this song’s lumbering, mawkish strive for universality which really, really needles me.

To make matters worse, they occasionally hit the nail on the head in snatches of the earlier verses (and God, do I resent it when that happens!), before ladling on the treacle and giving us the emotional equivalent of multiple Chinese burns with the kiddies’ choir, and the “echoes from beyond the grave when I gaze at me new born babby” section, and the…

…oh, but enough. And you know what’s even more galling? Objectively speaking, this is still better than Leif Bloody Garrett. So I can’t even mark it bottom of the pile.

wd09-04-99All of which makes the brattish entrance (“Gunter Glieben Glauben Globen!”) of the refreshingly uncouth Offspring all the more welcome, as light and life finally descend upon this wretched MP3 medley.

“Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” is a cute and clever little dig at wannabe-homies from the ‘burbs, stuffed full of neat observations and “ooh, THAT’S a good bit!” musical tricksiness. (I especially like the bit with the cowbells.)

And how propitious, that it should immediately precede the comeback single from that flyest of all white guys…

wd09-04-09Yes, it’s Eminem: back from his so-called “retirement” after a mere three years, and sounding… re-charged? Re-vitalised? Hungry for it, all over again?

Mmmph, no, not really. Sure, even Eminem on an off day is never less than entertaining, but for all its bravado (yeah, why not make light of serious sexual assault in the opening lines, you old liberal-baiter you?) “Crack A Bottle” fails to swing, fails to swagger (compare and contrast this all-star reunion of the old guard with the fantastic “Swagga Like Us”, last year’s “Paper Planes” sampling belter from rap’s current A-list), and Eminem’s delivery feels too by rote, too flatly on-the-beat, and almost a little grudging.

Things pick up for a while when Dr Dre shows up for his guest slot, before sliding off totally with 50 Cent’s tired, listless contribution. (Hell, even Will Smith at the end of the Tatyana Ali song sounded more committed.) Still, when it comes to stiff stolidity, Eminem is no match for Donald Peers, and there’s enough of worth here to be going on with. Just enough.

My votes: The Offspring – 5 points. Eminem featuring Dr Dre & 50 Cent – 4 points. Donald Peers – 3 points. Mike and the Mechanics – 2 points. Leif Garrett – 1 point.

Over to you. Until a couple of minutes ago, when I updated the spreadsheet, the 2000s were in second place – but it has only taken a couple of late votes in the earlier rounds to send them plummeting back down to fourth. Eminem, your decade is counting on YOU.

Running totals so far – Number Fours.

1999: Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) – The Offspring. (128)

The beginning might be stolen from an old Def Leppard song, but this is superb. I dig guitars at the best of times, but this hasn’t dated for me at all, and even though it has those typical sneery American frat boy “punk” vocals, it kicks along nicely. Best song here by a mile. (SwissToni)

I used to have a bit of a soft spot for The Offspring. This is easily the best of the bunch. Punchy, catchy and pointed. (Will)

Bubbles with infectious shoutiness. (diamond geezer)

Ah, the first and thus far only Orange County skate punk number one! I note that the Offspring are among those sampled on the current Puffy AmiYumi album – petition for a UK release, readers, it’s worth it – as indeed are Def Leppard, whose faux-Deutsch intro to “Rock Of Ages” is itself sampled for the intro to “Pretty Fly.”

Though “Come Out And Play” was not a hit here, its parent album Smash ended up one of 1995’s best sellers by word of mouth and stealth, so the Offspring’s British following had been growing for some time. 1999’s Americana was an even bigger hit, its systematic but good humoured examination of contemporary American youth mores acting as a sort of junior reader preface to American Idiot, and “Pretty Fly”’s Pixies-meet-B52s knowing catchiness has to date apparently provoked some 22 million downloads, mainly I suspect from the sort of earnestly flip youth the song satirises.

While it would have been great if, say, Rocket From The Crypt or Hot Snakes or Love As Laughter had made the top, they never quite grappled with a hook as unstoppable as the “Give it to me baby” plus cowbell plus Dexter’s lowing, Paul Lynde-ish “and all the girls say.” Possibly taking some of its lead from the Television Personalities’ “Part Time Punks” – “He needs some cool tunes, not just any will suffice/But they didn’t have Ice Cube so he bought Vanilla Ice!” – “Pretty Fly” nails the Ali G mindset in advance; the old story of wanting to be cool and totally missing the point of the culture he’s trying to emulate, though in a strange, dissolute way he remains happy (“So if you don’t rate, just overcompensate/At least you’ll know you can always go on Ricki Lake!” Holland sings with nudge-nudge relish). Even the nudge-nudge in the Spice direction (“The world loves wannabes!/Let’s get some more wannabes!”) is chiding rather than sarcastic; one of the cheerleading guys in the background is John Mayer. Another fine pop single which made me smile at a time when I needed enormous quantities of cheer. (Marcello Carlin)

Needs more cowbell. Always forget how much I love this one. (Sue Bailey)

Energetic social satire. Not really my bag, I prefer early Blink-182, but I wouldn’t be entirely unhappy if this came on the radio. In certain frames of mind it could probably irritate the hell out of me, but it has the easy charm and breezy swagger of the best power-pop. (Hg)

I thought that by the third time of listening it would grate, but in fact it continued to grow on me. (Z)

C’mon it’s got cowbell,sly lyrics and a sassy B-52 shouty delivery. Pretty Fly. (asta)

I wonder what, if anything, Tim Westwood thinks of this. Too many guitars on it for him, but even he has to admit, they are getting paid. (Lena)

I think I’ve heard this too many times on the radio, and I wouldn’t say I like it exactly, but it seems very well constructed, if that’s not damning it with faint praise. (The Lurker)

The producer has tried really really hard to record this to eliminate any trace of excitement from the loud guitars. Could have been good. (JonnyB)

The title of the song is famous, but they’re only doing what the Beastie Boys were doing (better) 12 years ago. (Gert)

I always found them wholly unconvincing as frat-boy would-be punks. Their other big hit totally ripped off “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da” too. (Erithian)

I don’t find this amusing, which rather defeats the point of the exercise. ‘Low Self Esteem’ was good, though. (Billy Smart)

Extremely irritating. I would like to never hear this again in my life. However it’s got a concept which is properly realised so I won’t let my personal feelings put it at the bottom. (Amanda)

2009: Crack A Bottle – Eminem featuring Dr Dre & 50 Cent. (106)

Not one of his best tracks when considered purely on its own merits – a bit of a plodder, in fact – but I’m awarding him goodwill points for being one of the most interesting & compelling musicians of the turn of the century. The appeal of 50 Cent remains a mystery to me though. (Hg)

I am worried about my inherent racism, because I quite like this despite my aversion to the genre. Although Stan is head and shoulders above because it transcends genre. (Gert)

Gets away with lyrical murder because the nicked tune’s great. (diamond geezer)

What a waste, as Mr Dury would have said. The record works brilliantly for its choruses and first two verses (“Oh-o-OH-o!”) – and is that a White Album sample I detect somewhere? – but all momentum is lost when the torpidly turgid 50 Cent waddles in to mumble the record into inert impotence like Bill Withers squashed by an Eddie Stobart lorry, and I put part of the blame for this single’s failure to reach number one on him, although a good deal of it has to lie with Eminem himself; surely after a 3-4 year absence he needs to be pronouncedly “back” in and of himself and not crowd out his tunes with unnecessary guests (there certainly is no T.I./T-Pain-style symbiosis at work here). And yet it still gets the four points. (Marcello Carlin)

I was going to write something like I did for the Prodigy – not my sort of thing but it’s exciting! But on a couple of listens, maybe it is my sort of thing. (JonnyB)

It sounds overblown to me, replacing the ideas and finesse of the early stuff with emphatic production. (Billy Smart)

A song that bumps along just fine until some guy called Curtis mumbles a lot about David Stockman, Ayn Rand and Bobby Jindal. No wonder it failed to get to #2, really. (Lena)

It really isn’t worth a 4 but it’s up against some of the lamest competition I can remember. 50, Fiddy, whatever. You’re over. Done. Get off. (asta)

Efficient, but did he really bother to come back with a song as, well, as THE SAME AS EVERYTHING ELSE HE’S EVER DONE? No 8 mile, is it? (SwissToni)

It doesn’t deserve one point, it isn’t that bad. But he does, because it is a lazy and shoddy way of taking advantage of his fans by putting out a poor record, knowing that it’ll be bought on the strength of his name. (Z)

1989: The Living Years – Mike & The Mechanics. (94)

As this charted less than a year after my father’s death, it has a very special resonance for me. I have goose bumps and tears listening to it now. It’s painful, but it works as art, because it’s not there to entertain, but to speak to the soul. (Gert)

I can see how some people would find it mawkish, ghastly etc, but it’s effective and well-worked too. I expect a few people will have reminded you that Rolf Harris happened to be a guest on breakfast TV one morning when this video was played, and they cut from the video to Rolf in a pool of tears as he’d not long since lost his dad. I was never on such good terms with mine as the day I last saw him, and it was 17 years afterwards that I became a dad myself, so it doesn’t quite apply, but I still fill up a wee bit at this. (Erithian)

I know it’s pure cheese, and yet… The lyrics are better than they have any right to be. (The Lurker)

I don’t like this, but I’m compelled to respect it. (diamond geezer)

If we were marking these on face-scrunching ability alone, this would be tops. As it is, I’m torn between scoring it highly for its ambitious take on an interesting subject and considerably lower for its awful execution. (Hg)

Mock meaningful and somehow SIGNIFICANT AOR drivel. Does absoutely nothing for me. “I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got”? What kind of useless lyric is that? Ah, but the chorus almost redeems it. Almost. It is a really good chorus though. (SwissToni)

He’s got something to say. It’s just that the sub-Paul-Young style of saying it isn’t that impressive. (Amanda)

Aimed above his ability. (Z)

Over-anthemic, but he did play guitar on some of the greatest tracks of all time. (Stereoboard)

I don’t like to be preached at in pop songs. (asta)

I’ve always cringed when this has come on the radio. Cloying and as subtle as a sledgehammer. (Will)

Thank goodness I was a goth and didn’t have to listen to that. (Sue Bailey)

Is this the worst #2 hit ever? It’s certainly in the running. Asinine, superficial and utterly dreadful, particularly because of its evident heartfelt sincerity and soulfulness, passion and honesty. Everything that exiled the eighties to a decade in the shed of shadows so of course Manilow covers it on his new Greatest Songs Of The Eighties album rather than e.g. “I’d Rather Jack” or “Candyskin” or “Yu-Gung.” (Marcello Carlin)

I may not be seeing ‘eye to eye’ with everybody here. The negatives – well the keyboard bit that echoes the first line of each of the verses is truly barf-inducing, and the quick sample doesn’t get across the further mawkishness that the final verse brings. I remember the Lee and Herring routine about going through life not basing any form of action on a Mike and Mechanics song (I think).

And yet – here we go – well, it’s quite good to sing along in the car to, innit? Essentially, FM AOR Dad-crap like this makes a virtue of its unmemorability. Yet this one is memorable. So let’s see past the syrup and give it ‘good song’ status. (JonnyB)

1979: I Was Made For Dancin’ – Leif Garrett. (85)

Nice bounce to this song. It’s possibly stolen from somewhere else – Abba even – but it makes me want to throw great disco shapes on the multicoloured illuminated dancefloor. Yeah! (SwissToni)

Does anyone else hear Madonna? No. Just me then? Ah well. I thought I would hate the track based upon the name attached, but oddly my days of Tiger beat magazine and the Cassidys and Bay City Rollers have left a soft spot in my heart for cute faced team heartthrobs. (jo)

I was too young to ‘get’ him in any way, but my goodness he was on the cover of Tiger Beat every month back then. I like a good dance song, even if it is a bit dumb. (Lena)

Nostalgia attack! I bought this with some of my 11th birthday money. If I had been 41 at the time I would have dismissed it as crap, but I am overruled by the girl in Junior 4 (and I’ve cued up the vid for later perusal) (Gert)

I think this is rather jolly. And I’m entranced by your Bollywood suggestion. (Sue Bailey)

The video reminds me of those Hardy Boys episodes where Shaun Cassidy’s Joe Hardy decides to be a singer. The intro is promising but Garrett sounds bored and uncommitted. Not irredeemable but the whole thing ends up bit Eurovision. (And I’d better stop listening to it now as it’s starting to grow on me.) (Will)

A bit stodgy. It fails to lift me in the way that its designed to. Crucially, it certainly doesn’t make me feel like dancin’. (Billy Smart)

Briefly pinned up in 1979 and about as potent and stirring as – well, Our Kid or the Nolan Sisters. With added bromide. Would have been a surefire number one in ’75 or ’76 but in ’79 it seemed a wee bit out of time. Standard fare in Figaro’s disco bar, I’m sure. (Marcello Carlin)

I just listened to this and I can’t remember anything about it other than that I thought it was a poor imitation of a Saturday Night Fever groove. (asta)

I don’t think there’s anything good to say about this. However, not being a particular fan of disco, it doesn’t offend me as much as it might if I was. (The Lurker)

Pure Summertime Special. Except that doesn’t work so well in mid-February. (diamond geezer)

Can’t help thinking there must have been some kind of fault in the manufacturing process. I’d ask for your money back, Leif. (Hg)

The kind of thing that made me discophobic. (Erithian)

Made for dancing perhaps but not made for singing. (Amanda)

1969: Please Don’t Go – Donald Peers. (67)

It does have an interesting sombre out-of-time quality. (Billy Smart)

A friend pointed out to me today that Peers in 1969 was 3 years younger than Neil Young is now and a year younger than Iggy Pop. (Erithian)

I picture a room full of lonely sailors and some girls in red lipstick with dance cards. Not horrible, but more background music to a film for me. (jo)

Of its time, but the only place this has in the modern world is being played over the closing credits as the lead character reflects on the life he had with his dead wife in a bittersweet gentle comedy film about two elderly people living together in the North of England. (JonnyB)

The brief return of the Cavalier of Song as Reith’s BBC wanly attempt to battle with what The Kids Of 1968-9 actually wanted from their popular music. The ruination of the late 1967/1968 charts by syrupy ballads has to be ascribed to the suffocating effect of Housewives’ Choice and similar – and Radio 2 now do penitence by playing “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Stay With Me Baby” and all of those other records which they should have been playing instead of the Ray Conniff and Ken Dodd that they actually did play. At 60 Peers was at that time the oldest chart debutant to date and his (well, Les Reed and Jackie Rae’s) adaptation of Offenbach was performed as plummily and outdatedly as he would have done in, say, 1939. Its ilk was already being wiped out by Godin and Blackburn ’s righting of recent history, not to mention the onslaught of the Album Culture, and now it sounds like a slightly embarrassing last stand by the Old against the inevitable crushing by the New. And yet it gets three points. (Marcello Carlin)

Gosh, that’s the slowest waltz I’ve heard for a while. What’s the tune? I used to play it on the piano when I was a little girl. Faster. (Z)

Yes, that waltz is half a blip away from flatlining. (Hedgie)

I probably “should” score this more highly, but the simple truth is that I like Leif Garrett more. (Hg)

The first song featured this year that I have absolutely no recall of, though I suspect I’d think the same if I heard it again next week. (NiC)

Another one from the 60s I have never heard of. Another one of those croony songs with no emotion and over-souped syrupy strings. Waste of voice that could have done something with better material. (Gert)

It’s like the Hump all over again, without the voice. It’s hardly the Don’s fault that he’s working in the 1960s with an utterly default and mediocre song. He’s a man trapped in his time and I”m sure if he were about now, he’d be working with Akon. Maybe. Well, no. (SwissToni)

Thank God for small mercies that this never made it to Canada. Donald Peers I’ll be quite happy if I never hear your voice again and I’d like the 15 minutes back that it took me to remember and find the Tales of Hoffman waltz that you ripped off.

Take it from me love, if your man’s singing this, go. Go right now. (Sue Bailey)

Decade scores so far (after 6 days).
1 (2) The 1960s (22)
2= (1) The 1970s (20)
2= (2) The 1980s (20)
4 (4) The 2000s (19)
5 (5) The 1990s (10)

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